North Pole - 2005 Expedition Log

Tuesday 19th April 2005
We arrived safely in Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen around midnight last night - and what a story we have to tell. So what happened? Why did not complete the last degree to the North Pole all the way on foot? I am sure some will wonder why. Anyone travelling the Arctic Ocean is at the mercy of an ever changing environment. Certainly our team was well prepared, but this year nature played a tough hand. Having arrived at Ice Station Borneo at 89.12 North, we made the decision to be flown South to exactly 89.00 North. Conditions here were challenging. The New moon and windy weather caused considerable ice break up in our area. We also found ourselves in an unusual South East ice drift (opposed to the normal North West drift). It therefore took five days to claw our way back to the latitude of Borneo. From here ice conditions eased and we progressed quickly. Then another unexpected blizzard at 89.28 caused more southerly drift and ice break up resulting in our drifting back overnight to 88.24. Nevertheless we pushed on, until meeting a significant lead blocking our way. As far as we could see East and West the ice in this area was extremely active and a crossing was near impossible - or at best very hazardous. I took the decision that the risk of crossing fast moving ice rubble surrounded by water was unacceptable.(...and the team quickly agreed!) Therefore we travelled East to a safe camping area hoping for improved conditions the following morning. Since we were feeling physically strong, with increasingly light sledges and having five days rations and fuel remaining, we expected with reasonable luck to complete the remaining distance to the Pole with four more days. However, one matter I could not have known, was the unavailabilty of a later flight back from Borneo to Longyearbyen, so the Russians were unable to accommodate our request to remain longer on the ice. Hence our reluctant and unavoidable evacuation. (via a quick landing and celebration at the North Pole!) As for other Artic travellers this year, as I write, no other teams have completed an entire last degree to the Pole on foot or ski. We have to accept the powerful forces of nature and unusual climatic weather conditions are ultimately in control. We wish all other expeditions a safe and successful passage.

From the Team: We all wish to emphasise the great success of our expedition. We have had the most amazing and varied Arctic experience imaginable, probably the only thing NOT encountered was a polar bear! To see the profound beauty of this awesome but supremely hostile environment - To hear the sound of 'billion-ton' ice pans in collision
- To feel the staggering debilitation of a minus 55 degreesC wind-chill
- And to smell the purity of the air in this desolate place -

We have been privileged.

We will return.
P.S. Sheldon now has the world record for extreme ironing at the North Pole...( He trekked with an iron and ironing board!)
Monday 18th April 2005
When we got up this morning, the lead that we were praying would freeze sufficiently for a crossing had opened up to about 50ft wide, and stretched as far as the eye could see both East and West. We were preparing to travel East to try to find a route North when Ice Station Borneo called on the Satphone. They explained that their latest surveillance showed vast areas of open water between us and the North Pole. With this news, we reluctantly accepted their offer to evacuate us by helicopter - stopping for a short time at the North Pole (weather permitting) on the way back to I.S. Borneo. (We would then tranship immediately to a fixed wing plane to fly back to Spitsbergen.)

From the helicopter, we too will be able to see the extent of the open water, and satisfy ourselves that we have done everything possible to reach our destination. Interestingly, for the first time this morning there was un-frozen water in our tent porchway - the temperature is only minus 15C. There is also a brown haze as we look around us, which signifies we are close to large areas of water - it also makes us ponder the global warming issue!

Emotions of the team are very mixed, but I can say that we have experienced conditions here this week which I have not seen before, and which the team will treasure for their lifetime. We have all worked together so well, and I am very proud of the way they have coped, given the severity of the conditions encountered.

Stop press: Mike phoned to say they had landed at the North Pole. Everyone is well, and injury free. More news when the team arrive in Spitsbergen - probably tomorrow.
Sunday 17th April 2005
We woke up this morning to a whiteout and a wind blowing 40 knots. There was no way we could travel safely in these conditions so we had to play a waiting game. By this afternoon however, everything changed, out came the sun, the wind eased and we ventured forth once more. Unfortunately we came to a huge lead so we climbed a 20 foot pressure ridge to look for a suitable route. The way ahead was a scene of total devastation-a slow moving pressure ridge unstable and pushing the ice pans apart; boulders some ten feet across were tumbling into the open water. This is the damage that severe winds can cause. We had no choice other than to find a safe position to camp. Talk about frustration!The north-westerly wind has further hindered us by causing us to drift southeast so we have lost the miles we made yesterday. Inspite of a trying day we remain optimistic and look forward to a change in fortune tomorrow. Conditions change so fast in the Arctic nothing can be predicted. We'll just have to wait and see. Position 89.25N. 170E. (nearly at the international dateline once again)
Saturday 16th April 2005
We woke up to a murky, cold and windy morning. I've worked out that with wind-chill, the temperature was -55C. Even the tent poles were frozen and we had to pass the stove flames through them to melt the ice to release them. Travel conditions were good and we achieved 9 nautical miles. At one point we came to a lead which was wide and long: it looked rather like the River Severn. We skied alongside it for quite a distance before managing to cross it over thin ice. As we were travelling, parallel to us, and moving at speed a pressure ridge was forming, some eight feet high. It was an amazing sight. The sun did eventually make an appearance, and thankfully the wind died down. If conditions remain the same, we could reach the pole in four days. We remain in good spirits and we are all well. Thanks everyone for your good wishes and support. Position 89.27N. 165E.
Friday 15th April 2005
Position 89.18N. 154.45E. Today we have had perfect weather. -28C, calm and sunny, with clear horizons. All team members are really in the groove now and linking well. The daily tasks are second nature, so we get a faster start in the morning, and make camp cleanly in the evening after a twelve hour day which starts at six am. The ice conditions have quietened down considerably, less movement and less noise, although we were awoken in the night by a fearsome crash from the nearby pressure ridge which came alive.We have encountered some good old pans of ice which enabled us to make our best progress to date, although we still had to negotiate many leads, sometimes using ice blocks as bridges to aid our crossing. This trek has been extremely intense, it has tested all our skills and strength to the limit, but what we have seen and achieved so far has been brilliant.
Thursday 14th April 2005
Position 89.09N. 152.10E. We got off to a good start as the team are used to the routine now. Everyone is pulling together really well and after a rest day we were eager to move. Initially the visibility was poor, almost a whiteout and the wind was strong, but eventually the sun came out and conditions improved. Today's experience of the power of the Arctic was truly awesome. Pressure ridges formed in front of our eyes - up to 20 ft high(6 metres) - with a continuous noise like that of a railway freight yard! The ice all around us was active, with leads opening up and closing in minutes, demonstrating the terrible power of the ocean. We were able to cross one lead by using an ice-floe as a pontoon which everyone enjoyed.(See the photo - and yes - we have it on video!) Later we skied into a cul-de-sac of pressure ridges, and we were about to retrace our steps when one ridge closed a lead and we were just able to cross - allowing us to continue northwards! Everyone is pulling their own sledge, and in good spirits. As Mike spoke, their meal was being prepared, and the talk was of an extremely remarkable day - a day to remember for ever.
Wednesday 13th April 2005
A rest day! The lead near them did not freeze enough during the night, and the wind had strengthened considerably, so it was decided to stay put: exactly as Tom Avery and the Korean team have done on the Canadian side of the Pole. To liven things up, Barry and Sheldon had a race around the area. The Easterly drift has slowed, and their position is now the same as the Tasman Sea @ 149.54 degrees East (Another 30 degrees of drift, and they will cross the dateline and go into yesterday! Shades of Dr. Who!) Frustrating in some ways, but it will enable all the little tasks to be attended to, and give everyone a chance to recuperate after the last two difficult days. Let's hope conditions improve tomorrow. All are well, and in good spirits.
Tuesday 12th April 2005
Position 89.05.N. 148.E. Temperature -19C. Very little progress is being made owing to high winds catching the pressure ridges and opening up leads. It's a complex situation. The whole area is very active and it is precarious climbing the ridges and seeing everyone across thin ice with their sledges. We are forever removing skis and putting them back on. It's been a struggle all day. Barry is a rock, he's pulled two sledges for most of the day. At the moment, we are camped near a lead, hoping that it will have frozen by morning, and as a result of the continual drift east, we are over Japan. This fast drift means that we are probably the first team to have circumnavigated the earth overnight whilst sleeping! We hope that tomorrow will be kinder to us. Say prayers for us, we need all the help we can get. Love to our families and friends.
Monday 11th April 2005
(Short message today , lots of satellite traffic.) We have been walking all day, but owing to the easterly drift of the ice have made no progress north. All in all it has been a challenging day, lots of active pressure ridges with much creaking and groaning and many leads. Inspite of the difficulties, the environment is truly beautiful and we are all coping well. The incidents referred to yesterday involved David and Barry who both ended up having an impromptu swim as the ice gave way. This situation was speedily resolved, being one of the 'what-if emergencies' covered in UK team training. Both are fine and morale remains high.
Sunday 10th April 2005
Flying on the Antonov was quite an experience. It was a bit of a free for all on entering the plane, as there were a few Americans on board as well, everyone trying to get one of the four window seats. It was very dark, no lights at all and very cold. At the back of the aircraft there were dogs in cages. It appeared to be a primitive cargo plane, a real shed and the atmosphere was sinister. However to our absolute amazement, there appeared an air hostess, beautifully made up and smartly dressed. She proceeded to serve us with a de-luxe meal complete with drinks. It was a surreal experience. The landing was great, wheels touched down on crushed ice, we had arrived at Borneo Ice Station. It was 3am. and we were supplied with a single skin tent which was not satisfactory for the conditions. After three and a half hours sleep, we were scrambled on to a helicopter for our flight south to 89 degrees. We didn't have any opportunity to prepare hot water bottles so it was not the start we were hoping for. We had no choice but to commence our trek immediately. This meant that our rations could not be sorted out as they would normally be. Rushing is the last thing needed on a venture of this kind. The first hour and a half went went well, quite slow but this is to be expected at the beginning of such a journey. During the next two hours we had a few incidents as a result of thin ice and leads(open water). More about this tomorrow, nothing life threatening but certainly a wake up call. At present we are sitting in our tents, warm and dry and mulling over the last strange 24 hours. Weather is calm and sunny, it is incredibly beautiful, temperature -30C. Everyone is fine and in good spirits. Position 89.03 136.31.
Saturday 9th April 2005
Flight to Ice Station Borneo about to leave 9pm GMT. (10pm Norwegian time) Team have been briefed by the two Victors and everyone feels thoroughly prepared for the journey. The two and a half hour flight in an Antonov 74 will take them to 89.15 degrees. From here they will be flown south by helicopter to their starting point at 89 degrees.Most of the day has been spent checking stoves, skis and sledges. Sheldon has given a very slick presentation of how to handle firearms. One of Barry's skis was damaged in transit, but has been mended at the local store- common practice in this part of the world.

Liz's sledge was found to be rather heavy. After close inspection, it was discovered that she was carrying contraband. Thanks to Vonnie for supplying a lady's personal item now confiscated! Imagine having your own pottie, unthinkable baggage for an explorer.

Hopefully an update tomorrow if weather conditions allow. Love to family and friends.
Friday 8th April 2005

Today has been spent sorting gear and packing food.Packing has had to be thoughtfully carried out to ensure that each sledge is well weighted at the base to prevent its turning over when travelling over rough ice. Sheldon has collected 20 rounds of ammunition size 30.06, apparently this is 'monster' size. Let's hope it doesn't have to be used. The two Victors who are in charge of the 'Ice Station Borneo' arrived in Spitzbergen today with the news that our team will be flown to the floating ice station tomorrow evening a day earlier than anticipated. Good news, but pressure is on to complete final preparations. Tent erecting is scheduled as the next task, followed by firearms practice. Weather not too bad at -30C with wind-chill, and there is now 24 hour daylight. Everyone in great spirits and working well together. David has presented each team member with a Sir Winston Churchill commemorative crown on behalf of his charity, a very touching moment from all accounts. These crowns will be photographed at the Pole.

On a lighter note, Liz has 75 teddy bears with her which will be auctioned for charity on her return.

Thanks also to Polly for the wristlets.

Anyone interested in the details of 'Ice Station Borneo', see this link.

Thursday 7th April 2005

Michael with his team of four novices left Heathrow this evening on the first leg of their expedition to ski the last degree to the North Pole. They will fly to Longyearben in Spitzbergen via Oslo in Norway. Their arrival will be in the early hours of Friday morning. The fifth team member, David Shreeves is already in Spitzbergen. On arrival the team will practise various routines to hone their skills for the forthcoming challenge. They are scheduled to fly the 750 mile journey to 'Ice Station Borneo' on April 10th from where their trek will start.Weather in Spitzbergen is very cold today -40 degrees C and windy.Michael reports that everyone is well and looking forward to the challenge.

We wish them a safe and rewarding journey.